I have known Billy Berenholc for many years, yet it was only recently that I finally walked inside his iconic Lester’s Deli on Bernard Street in Outremont.
A few months ago Billy and I reconnected when I learned that his Mr. Smoked Meat brand was supplying Dizz’s Bagel and Deli on Côte St. Luc for them to make some pretty fine sandwiches. I promised myself that I’d go see his headquarters.
Established in 1951, Billy’s late dad Eddie was an original employee and took it over in 1956. Customers come from everywhere to visit the Montreal landmark. Many can remember coming to the restaurant for smoked meat with their parents and grandparents, and now bringing their children and grandchildren to savor the Lester’s Deli tradition. whether young, old or in between, everyone enjoys their sandwiches and hand-cut French fries.
“I started hanging out here as a kid,” Billy recalls. “When my dad offered me to come aboard I was interested in the marketing aspect and taking this place to the next level.”
See my video chat with Billy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmHjuMdVCDY
Walk inside the locale and it looks like a deli from a movie set. Photos of celebrity visitors adorn the walls. There is seating for about 45 while up to 80 people can be accommodated on the makeshift patio. The business continues to succeed in person, for home delivery, take-out and at least 20 to 30 Purolator vacuum-packed packages shipped to clients across Canada each day. A Lester’s Deli franchise in the American terminal of Trudeau Airport is extremely popular as well.
Catering jobs represent another forte of the operation. “We can guarantee clients 100% hot smoked meat sandwiches for their meetings or affairs,” Billy notes.
Lester’s Deli takes advantage of the latest packaging and shipping methods, with freshly cut, vacuum-sealed and ready to be reheated whenever and wherever the craving arises. I have family members in the United States who take advantage of this often.
Billy comes in early each morning with some of his staff to ensure all aspects of the operation are in place. That is when I met him. While there is an office upstairs, he uses a booth to take care of business. He even has a telephone on the wall and it rings incessantly. Billy prepared for me a cup of decaf coffee and a delicious smoked meat and egg omelet, with rye toast and hand-cut fries. He also sent me home with their marquee hot smoked meat sandwich, wrapped ever so properly in wax paper. All I had to do was place it in the microwave and it was fresh and delicious as could be. And of course, he sent me back to the office with a quenching can of black cherry.
The menu is vast, featuring a variety of other sandwiches (roast beef, smoked turkey, egg salad, beef salami, stuffed chicken, club and club roll, smoked sandwich) platters, hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese, poutine, chicken and veggie burgers, karnatzel and steak plus desserts.
Billy walked me to the storefront directly next to the Deli where another team was hard at work for Mr. Smoked Meat.
This is a place where tour buses typically pull up and celebrities arrive. When the 2023 Grand Prix of Canada took place, the Aston Martin team of native Montrealer Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso held a big party. Billy has known Lance’s dad Lawrence since they were kids.
Lester’s Deli, by the way, has no connection to the manufacturer of beef, deli products and hotdogs, which operates out of a huge warehouse in Laval.
Lester’s Deli is located at 1057 Bernard Street in Outremont. You can call 514-213-1313, 1 866 Lesters (537-8377), or log on to www.lestersdeli.com. Hours of operation are 7 am to 3 pm Mondays, 9 am to 8 pm Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 7 am to 9 pm Thursdays to Saturdays. They are closed Sunday.